I think this is probably too deep for this hour of the night and a day packed with real-life cybersecurity action at work (woo hoo!).
In any case, I have some ideas I don’t want to leave unexpressed tonight, also I’m listening to a “Jazz Noir” playlist, which helps me make it through the night with the guts and toughness of a broken detective, way too tormented to sleep and obsessed about catching that monsters of the streets, that’s proven so elusive: “but, tonight is the night…” as our good-old Dexter Morgan would say.
So what’s up with the void?
Oh, come on folks! Shouldn’t you know it by now, that I have a natural affinity with drama?
No, but seriously, I’ll talk about real shit here just be patient and bear with my introductions; I’ll tell you two things:
This has to do with my journey as a writer and artist (of course, if you read me, you probably figured that out)
This is another of this self-discovery-type-of-article in which I feel like having these epiphanies about my own journey, may (even if accidentally) help some of you on your own, or at least get you to think more about it. If that’s the case, I will feel satisfied.
I don’t usually quote people that much in my blog, but I believe the following is worth quoting and helps me as a good starting point for my topic tonight:
“Every bit of learning is a little death. Every bit of new information challenges a previous conception, forcing it to dissolve into chaos before it can be reborn as something better. Sometimes such deaths virtually destroy us.”
So the thing is, this guy from the start challenges you with: “writers have to write, every day”. Well, it’s not the first time I hear it of course, but hey since I’m used to “doing things my way”, I ignored all the exercises and the prompts and started binging the thing: I didn’t get too far, it became burdensome and then I thought to myself “well, you’re already working in your books and if this instructor is right, you should probably just keep writing those”. Well, guess what? I’m stuck now, cause, in reality, I do need all the help and instruction I can get and if I don’t start using what’s available, these projects of mine will never see the light.
Now, folks, it’s taken me years to grow up and stop self-beating for about everything, but I have to be honest because I’ve assessed this with sincerity: that fucking attitude of mine is plain arrogance, disguised as something else. The truth is, it comes from feeling I’m above “writing prompts” and above hundreds or thousands of aspiring authors and somehow my stuff is more special and I don’t need to do what everyone’s doing in forums, and in communities and…
You get the point.
Now, before you just hate me, two things:
Being honest is not easy, I know for a fact most people won’t be. So take the above as a confession, as an attempt to defeat this stupid arrogance that has no real foundation, for I’m the newbie of newbies and I know it.
I think this has a root in other seemingly “unrelated” things that reside in my subconscious and have been sabotaging me for years; perhaps joining me in my analysis may be an interesting exercise for you too.
So taking all of this into account, I started pondering, very seriously: “why am I acting like this, if it’s evidently counter-productive?” And also “have I been doing this in other aspects of my life?” “In other projects, maybe?”
Short answer: “Yes”. Also, I happen to know at least a part of what’s lurking in the subconscious mind that’s affecting me like this, and it’s not something I like to talk about but here we go.
Show these motherfuckers!
So this guy right here is a big part of my personality.
“Seriously? A tough guy?”
Yes, maybe you find me quite melancholic, I am that as well xD. But yeah, this ‘tough boy persona’, who’s a part of me, has been playing some tricks and I have exposed him.
In honor of our story together and the huge help this “tough-boy Josue” has been, let me tell you a little about him and why he’s such a strong part of this troubled mind of mine. Do you know, or could you imagine where tough people come from?
Answer:Tough people comes from tough places.
And yes, there’s just so much to my personal story, at least in the part of my life where I couldn’t really manage or decide, that it could become a series of articles. But the thing is, as soon as I became an independent adult, even with the serious health, financial and emotional problems I dragged from earlier stages of my life, I decided no one was gonna fuck with me ever again. Not only that, but I also decided that the world was majorly a hostile place for me, and I would get from it what I wanted even if I had to force it to hand it over to me.
I know this is a cliche, the cliche of the damaged person who decides never to be a victim again and in becoming epic, also becomes unreachable, unreachable, and oftentimes, unwanted.
To me, this wasn’t a “stage” of early adulthood, it was probably how I was during my 20’s and the beginning of my 30s (I’m 36). I got used to this because it wasn’t only an emotion, it became my lifestyle: courageous, charging forward, an excess for effort, muscle, hard work, relentless… But also, often times reckless, overly self-centered, and hostile. And I did get the benefits of becoming ‘the tough guy’; I’ve been able to do many things that destructive people around me considered “impossible” and I’ve felt amazingly great seeing them from afar, confused and stale where they’ve always been and will probably always stay. All of this while I continue to move, while I charge ahead.
Now, the fact that I’m now able to see myself with more critical eyes, and understand sort of the “archetype” represented by this part of my personality, doesn’t mean I condemn myself for being this way: I accept and love that tough boy, he’s helped me a great deal and others around me as well because hidden in his hostility, he’s got a heart that wants to help others, especially the damaged ones. Without his violence and his strength, I wouldn’t be me, and I accept myself and really like it, nowadays.
But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to his shortcomings, and some of the consequences of using this guy so much are becoming obstacles for me.
There’s A World Beyond The Fight
What happens to a soldier, after the war is won?
My life story required a soldier and a very epic one. But see the thing is, I got attached to that character, to that version of myself that brought me so many victories, so much satisfaction, who protected and provided, who endured the worst times. But this soldier is now facing a time he was not built for, a time of peace, a time of quietness, a time of beauty, a time of exploring new things and by the way, a time he bought with blood and tears.
The tough boy has been in a crisis of meaning for a few years now.
And what’s growing in me, is a different animal. It’s still part soldier because I will never let go of that, but I need to integrate it with a philosopher, an artist, a thinker, and a businessman because these other “auxiliary” parts of me are no longer the “auxiliary” ones but the ones taking precedence.
So among many other things, I will not brute-force my way into writing a good book, recording a decent music demo, or developing a voice worth listening to. All of these new things, require me to connect with others, learn from others, and accept the possibility that others hold many of the keys I’ve been desperately trying to find.
It’s time for bravery to give way to humbleness, and violence, to wisdom.
And in that sense, the words of Dr. Peterson echo strongly in my current midnight (not a metaphor, it’s literally 12:36 A.M.), listening to jazz noir and feeling very tired, and also very satisfied that I’m tired for the right reasons.
And let me finish with this: I will go through that whole Udemy writing course, and I will start again being engaged in writer forums and communities and actually read what others are doing, helping them review and also asking for their reviews and their feedback, even if it’s hard to hear. This is now a public commitment with you, my wonderful readers; actually, I published my first exercise from that course, it’s called Blue Door in case you’d like to read it.
Friends, I’m learning, every day, dying a “small death” every day, and watching something new come to life every day. We’re humans, we’re wonderful creatures capable of reinventing ourselves, capable of deciding to become someone better than yesterday and if I die tomorrow I’ll go with a smile.
I’m listening to Elliot Smith’s “Miss Misery”. What a songwriter! Lately, I listen to this guy like every day, not lying to you, and that’s just something I do until I’m through with it and need something new that makes me feel things, then a new music crisis begins and after a finite number of these cycles, I die (of old age I hope).
But that has nothing to do with the title, although I have to say, lying down in my bed, listening to this playlist, and writing in my blog is quite cathartic and probably the beginning of a moment’s rest in an otherwise hectic day.
So yesterday I lost almost a full day’s work because of a major system update applied to my laptop that changed the way I work quite drastically, changes are hard to assimilate especially when you’ve built a lot around the way things were. And today, I had a third and final interview for a job I really, really want, and I felt so nervous! So today I had to work like a motherfucker, focused, fast, and relentlessly in a new, weird environment to make up for the time lost and be able to squeeze 1+ hours in the afternoon for my interview. The interview was a KILLER one, I felt like a mouse trapped by a very playful and evil cat who won’t just let it die; and to my surprise, it seems they will make an offer (I can’t wait for the news!).
After all of this, I’m just beat.
But there are projects I’ve been postponing for years, my art odyssey, sailing the seas of creativity, learning the technique and the craft from scratch while working on bringing to life concepts that have been locked deep inside the wardrobe of my secret wishes. So I face a bit of difficulty here: “Do I go find a way to please myself after a hard day? Or do I invest some time in the disciplines I require to master if I’m ever to make it as an artist?”
It’s not an easy choice, also it is neither completely right nor completely wrong. I could not image nor endure an existence that is made up of 100% discipline, virtue, and rigor. I aim to enjoy my existence and if everything is serious, scripted, and unflexible that will simply not happen. But then again, what’s the right time for each? Me being a 36-year-old, my life doesn’t get any easier, my responsibilities increase as my kid grows up, my career advances, and I introduce personal projects into the huge amount of matters that require attention, time, and money.
So I realize that although it’s perfectly acceptable to take time to rest after a hard day, it is not the best choice when compared to my aspirations and their size. So I chose to stick to my decision of keeping a daily discipline: writing and studying classical guitar. It wasn’t epic folks, it wasn’t full of heroism nor did a muse come to me and showed me how valuable my effort was: it sucked. My musical practice came very slow and didn’t sound so well, my writing wasn’t fluent at all and a truck cut the power cabling in my residential area so when I was finally gaining some writing momentum it all went dark.
So discipline is such, precisely because it happens in spite of feelings and events, but only if you’re willing to make it happen. Hence the title of the blog post.
Owning your suffering
Who wants to hear about suffering, right? I mean, isn’t it the very thing we avoid like the plague, and isn’t this avoidance the reason why we do a lot of what we do consciously or not?
But suffering is a reality, and realities are there to be seen, acknowledged, and dealt with. The opposite is one of many forms of denial, but the denial to see what exists and is evident is probably one of the worst abilities we have as humans; denial has buried entire lives decades before their bodies hit the grave.
So, if we face the reality and the constant possibility of suffering, the question is: how do we manage it? Well, we use it, and we seek to accommodate it so that in the means possible it happens in our terms and within our parameters; and when we accomplish this, that suffering has a much deeper meaning to us and produces less discomfort as well.
Let me give you a very mundane example:
“Rent is due, you’re behind and you know your landlord may want to evict you soon. Now, you know you’re tired, work is not going as good as you wish and you’re a bit down about the whole situation, you choose to ignore the risk and wish for the best; you read in some bullshit book that prosperity is manifested through positive thinking and thus, your efforts to resolve the situation are mental and sadly soon enough they prove to be useless as you actually get kicked out. Now there’s quite some suffering coming your way.
The alternate version of this is, you actually have a bike you use to go to work and run your errands; you realize that things are going south and on top of that, your landlord seems not to be tolerant of your rent payments any longer. You choose to download a delivery app and enroll in the system; Uber or any of those apps, you know you’re going to make some money there and it may take you a couple of months to resolve the whole situation and it’s going to also mean finishing your shift to work even more, taking shit you don’t care about to people you don’t know. You go a speak to the landlord, negotiate some installments for the amount due and commit to full payment of the current month as soon as you’re paid. You’re buying yourself two months of tiredness and suffering.”
So what’s the big difference between these two scenarios?
In the second scenario, you acknowledge the monster below the carpet, look it in the eye and in all its awfulness, and decide to deal with it. If you’re able to control it, you will indeed suffer and probably regret some actions that put you in that position. But you also have a clear timeframe in sight, you won’t be having a great time but you won’t be humiliated and homeless by the end of the month.
In the first scenario, however, you’re thrown by someone else into uncertainty, things are already out of your hands and there’s potentially no end in sight for the storm that’s upon you.
That’s what I mean when I say “own your suffering”. And it’s a bit of a drastic scenario, but it illustrates the point.
For many years, I suffered the fact that my artistic light was shut down, denied by mundane life and obligations. No time to create, no freedom either, no funds to get an education, enslaved to my technical career because it’s what gets me money, growing older and older and I can go on with the list…
You know, I was so wrong in the way I viewed things, but it took me a long time to realize. I mean, there were some awful realities to face: yes, I didn’t have the support I needed to start early in the arts, I missed some opportunities as a young adult and I took responsibilities out of my own choice that ended up limiting my freedom to move. So yeah, I fucked it up, but in no way did it have to stay that way.
As it turns out, the technical career I dedicated so much time and effort to, so that it would get me some money… guess what? It got me money! Not only that, but seniority gave me more flexible schedules and hence a way to organize my time more freely, and what about all the years lost? Not lost at all, it’s no secret that artists benefit much from suffering if they’re able to translate that into an art form worth appreciating, my life experience in other realms is a great source of knowledge for my books and songwriting and even the long wait, pushes me to be more decisive in my current efforts.
What will it all turn into in the end? Will I be a success? Will I go unnoticed?
Yeah, those thoughts are part of my daily anxiety, but I’ll tell you something after years of frustration and getting depressed because of this topic: I’d rather choose that risk of putting heart and soul into something that’s not as well received as I expect, than lowering my arms and adopting conformity with my current situation, and slowly grow bitter and bitter, feeling dreams are never meant to be fulfilled, that life is unfair, that other people had the opportunities I didn’t and so on… Become resentful, bitter…
No, I’ve known enough people like that, their lives are my definition of doom, imprisonment, and despair and it hurts me that so many folks with a huge potential just chose to give up way too early in life. But you know what? It’s their choice, they just allowed the default direction of the system to pull them and define them, they chose not to suffer the embarrassment of learning something as older students, the uncertainty of risking their grown-up stability for a dream, they chose to watch T.V, cook barbeques or party instead of building the vehicle that would take them out of the “unfair” existence they bitch so much about.
I’d rather fail with the full knowledge that I’ve chosen that pain, instead of waiting to see what my denial is bringing upon me, a pain I can’t control nor possibly revert.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not extrapolating a principle of general applicability out of my very specific life history. I’m applying ancient principles to my efforts in attaining very difficult goals, and this is what I want to communicate, for it may be just what you need to read today.
It may be that for many of you, this is a time to enjoy your family, your friends, your lover, a T.V series, travel, and entertainment. I don’t antagonize any of these in principle, it would make me a hypocrite as I’ve traveled many places, watched Breakin Bad about 4 times now, Death Note about 3 times, sung karaoke and danced with my wife and kid for hours, and have streamed the whole Death Stranding videogame via Twitch.
But I’m now facing a new stage, one that I could have had much earlier in my life and I would possibly be under less pressure now, but it is what it is. This is my time for discipline, effort, and suffering my belated dreams. And you know what? I’ve waited for this for many years and I intend to live it fully.
I do hope some of my struggles make nutritious food for thought, and if it seems to shed some light on a situation you’re going through, don’t ignore it, take that light and seek the monster’s lair for yourself; you may find out you’re more capable of dealing with it than you thought and just as I believe will happen in my case, it will not go unrewarded.
I’ve been dropping weight gradually, it was one of my big goals for 2022 and I’ve achieved it! So I don’t dine at night now, and I feel so good about it. But when I do, I’d rather have soup or a salad! It’s gentler food, and you go to sleep feeling balanced rather than feeling heavy and burdened.
So, this is part of why I’m entitling this post “Stoic Salad”, cause it’s a good post for your mental health, but also it’s a salad, a blend of ingredients: some classic stoicism will be the predominant flavor, but I’m adding some of my own discoveries, my treasures from introspection.
Ambition and Peace: Friends or foes?
I’ve seen a trend in Instagram and TikTok, maybe not a massive trend, but nevertheless one that I’m actually glad it’s occurring, a rediscovery of stoicism. I’ve heard very interesting podcasts and follow several accounts that regularly post quotes from Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and other philosophical luminaries. I believe it’s worth listening to them, as the relevancy of their reflections is ever-current.
I’m not going to even try to teach you philosophy, for I’m not a master in this area, but I feel comfortable telling you how it helps me. See, the word “stoic” is often used to describe a condition of apathy or numbness, but this is not what philosophical stoicism is. Stoicism is more about acceptance and being able to understand and control emotions, and here’s where I feel it becomes too relevant to our digital life nowadays: people often seem not to be able to control emotions! Digital marketers and news agencies know this and often post misleading, incendiary titles to posts and articles because they know that those are statistically going to drive the most engagement; and there’s a tension, a frustration that’s awaiting to be released against other unknown people, which also makes our interactions via Social Media a tremendous amplifier for propaganda and ideology: indeed a rather dangerous predicament at a society level.
Stoicism reminds us of our position in the world, the position of others and the often overlooked capacity we humans have of just letting things happen without taking a big emotional toll from them. You’ve probably heard the maxim “memento mori” or “remember death”; what does it mean? Well, no matter how optimistic you are, you know you will eventually die, it comes as no surprise to most, I hope. Now, how’s our acceptance or denial of this fact, and how do we allow it to impact our perception of life? Stoicism identifies that the state of denial regarding death, leaving it as a taboo subject that’s grim to think or talk about, to be cause of many lifes going to waste. For many people, they just allow years to go by with not a lot of progress, not a lot of meaning, not a lot of accomplishment and eventually, this will start causing despair. If we make it a daily habit to “remember death” we will always have in our consciousness a frame of reference for our actions and reactions that can really change things: how relevant is this? Is it worth my time? Is it worth my effort? In the long run, how worthy is this subject, this person, this offense, this conflict, this pain I’m going through? Is it worth this much attention, this much focus? Could it be dealt with in a way that takes me closer to peace, to serenity?
For me, remembering death means also, “stay humble” even in my greatness; for there’s a greatness in human industry and ingenuity, there’s something extremely beautiful about the capacity we have to create, to imagine, and to manifest abstraction into reality. But, as hard as it is to hear, both you who make an effort to be extraordinary and the mediocre person that keeps criticizing you and trying to pull you down out of envy, you’re going to end up facing the same final fate: death. So how relevant is it, is it worth any attention at all, is it worth your anger, your sadness, your hatred?
I’ll tell you what it means to me: every single second in this life is too precious to be wasted in petty things; every single smile, every single tear, every single moment of rest, of work, of gentleness, of conflict, of uncertainty is to be savored! It’s life in all it has to offer and it will end. Can I look back and smile when I see how plentiful my life was? How I chose to make the most out of each day? How I chose to feel and to react to what I can’t control? This is my desire once I’m holding death’s hand and transitioning, I want to experience death when the time comes without any dread or regret of not having experienced life properly.
Time for random reflections folks, isn’t it exciting to be able to just stop one’s routines and pre-defined action sets and just sit down and think? Man, this is why I love writing, it’s like taking a shovel and starting digging treasures inside of your own mind and soul, maybe they’ve been ignored for years, maybe disguised in unpleasant containers, but they’re precious if you pay enough attention.
One of the big opportunities I’ve experienced in the last 3 years of self-exploration, is being able to observe my own beliefs and presuppositions from above as if participating from an external consciousness. It’s not easy, as humans our self-preservation and to a degree, our sanity demands a certain structure from us, a certain set of immutable or core beliefs that would provide a sense of identity but also a frame of reference for measuring the world around us and gather meaning from it. And so I’ve come to understand there are two extremes I want to avoid at a personal level:
The dogmatism that incarcerates: I avoid dogmatic positions like the plague. One thing you can expect to increase in my content is a challenge to ideology and dogma, I consider myself a free spirit and I hate to observe the prisons people end up bearing in order to be accepted by a certain group or even to be able to accept themselves. That’s also why I don’t think many people will ultimately grasp me, I will reason against your beliefs but then another I will support a subset of them, on a case-by-case basis; a mind that’s interested in learning the truth needs to allow enough room to grow and admit to past and present severe misconceptions. As you age, maintaining this attitude requires a very intentional decision.
The fluidity that renders you shapeless: Well that’s every bit as dangerous as the former; when everything’s true, nothing is. It’s OK to make mistakes, it’s OK to offend others by having solid positions on topics that cause controversy, it’s OK to change your mind if deep inside you know your adversary has won the argument. But absolute fluidity makes you very easy to deal with, deceive, and manipulate; it’s interesting, just as I can create propaganda tailored to the needs of a very dogmatic type of person with a set of well-known beliefs, I can also device means to confuse a person who’s absolutely fluid, and act in the direction I want one day, and in the opposite the next day, the person will never realize because they dread taking a confrontative position on pretty much anything.
“OK Josué, how’s this related to A. I and humans? Are you playing us or just doing very hard drugs?”
Answer: Neither, but have you seen how film directors can shoot a seemingly unnecessary scene for like two minutes straight just cause he feels like it? David Lynch, I’m talking to you!
Well, just the same, I sometimes feel I need to write something that seems unrelated but it connects directly to the topic, even if it’s not apparent.
So I have been of the “anti-system” type for years and years; I didn’t see my dad much, but when I did I would always ask him about why things are the way they are, a 12-year-old talking about a system he deemed oppressive, unfair and rigged; was I wrong? Not entirely, no; a lot of that happens to be true and for some reason, it bothered me since a very early age.
I’m 35 about to turn 36 and I came to understand it will never be ideal, not even close. But there are degrees of non-ideal realities and the truth is, I wouldn’t trade myself for people who lived before our day and age; I consider myself blessed and yes, I know this doesn’t apply to all. If we were to destroy every foundation on top of which current power and economic structures rest if we were to pursue the dismembering of the evil empire piece by piece and with fierce wrath destroy the reign of injustice, how long would it take us to build something better and entirely different or even allow me to ask: could we?
These are complex questions, and idiotic ideologies will have deceitful easy answers for them, but if you consider these things carefully and honestly maybe you wouldn’t rush to set shit on fire just cause you feel it’s wrong.
I feel I’ve been a frustrated revolutionary for most of my life, but now I came to understand the value of reformation; in either case, we’ve seen both revolution and reformation happen in history with great results sometimes and dreadful results many times, but I believe in salvaging, fixing and building better things using the experience of past generations as a starting point.
I know, it’s not as exciting as destroying everything right? But have you ever seen or read about unstable regions trying to painfully define for years a struggle for power between two or more factions? Man, it’s a horrible window to look through and it will show you some of the worst of mankind; it’s never going to be perfect but it’s better if it’s relatively stable and there’s enough balance for opposing forces to introduce changes and balance.
“OK Josué, seriously: how the FUCK this related to A. I and humans?”
Answer: Because a new society is being shaped, and with it, it brings new challenges. But I would rather take a part in building it than opposing it blindly; by constructing during its early stages, and embracing change, I get an angle and perspective to help reform it later.
Back To The Future
Change is chaos to human psychology, it’s typically not naturally welcome, unless you’re in a horrible position, and such change promises an opportunity to turn the table around. But even so, many individuals will prefer the known evil to exploring the unknown.
And so we witness how robots are taking many jobs that used to be a human job for a fraction of the cost and double the efficiency, you see how an A.I algorithm can generate competent artwork and provide interesting interpretations of deep concepts, how expert systems can make better decisions in critical moments due to their lack of emotion, and how automation simply starts removing the repetitive tasks from our plates.
Information is at hand, education is more accessible than ever, and it is my belief that an individual living in a relatively free, democratic country can change their social and financial situation with much more easiness than in previous ages if they decide to listen to the market and acquire in-demand skills, learn to manage the money they start getting wisely and create something profitable with it: I can tell you this because it’s my own “rags to riches” story, where I’m nowhere near rich, but I live a life no generation in my family before would have dreamed of as far as opportunities and quality of living.
Now, everything in life comes at a price. I’ve paid a very expensive price in terms of time, in terms of pursuing my best potential in the things I care about the most. And such has been my conflict and paradox for many years: I love the opportunity technology has afforded me, but I want to write, I want to create music and art. So, I hated my life for a long time, not realizing that my problem was my linear vision of life and achievements and my own childish expectations that were simply impossible to fulfill because the world wasn’t as I pictured it.
Today, as I continue to build this blog, have much more flexibility in my time management at work, explore my own thoughts and talents, and build my next plans around what I want rather than what I need, I bless those years of bitter struggle.
But one obsession, one thing that the toughest years left me is this: can I help others escape their bitterness? More importantly: can I help others find their potential and get the confidence in themselves to use it? Because I can tell you step by step how I did it, but what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for all. Also, I look at my life and for the first time in my almost 36 years of existence, I feel I’m in the right place, doing the rights things, and can stop for a moment a feel grateful and satisfied; but maybe if you look at my life at this stage it’s far from enough according to your own standards. We’re all different.
But I feel that as the system we live in continues to automate the mundane, the ordinary, this provides for an opportunity which is: that humans can dedicate more to the abstract work of ideas than to the material work of surviving in nature. Could this answer my concern about giving humans the opportunity to explore their own genius at a deeper level? To have more sovereignty over the way they spend their time? To let the machines do the tedious and start competing to provide value based on their own creativity and thoughts? To become creators of new stories, realities, and solutions?
I know, that I’m not speaking about every person here; not everyone has the same motivation although I do believe that every human has the potential to create something. So in order for such a change to be inclusive, there’s really a lot of work involved, a lot of trial and error, a lot of system building, some of which has already begun, perhaps by people some us deem evil or greedy?
And this ties down to my whole story about the system, the reformation, and so on; can you think of building something with others, believing in an improvement, and raising the human potential to a new level? You’re building a system, and probably one that decades from the time you began building it will generate its own problems and will eventually be criticized and threatened by the anti-system people of that age, who happen to have valid points against what you created.
Are we doomed to run in circles continually?
Can we dispose of the rubbish we inherited but honor the hard work of those who laid the very foundations of the system we benefit from?
I have a headache, like a pretty bad one and I hate it. Feeling ill lowers my motivation a lot, and I hate the feeling of losing time; when I’m ill it’s difficult to be creative and thankfully, I was still able to bring a laptop to bed and work on my writing for a fair amount of time.
I took two pills a while back, but I’m starting to feel relief after a while of listening to Liszt; maybe it’s the combined effect of both things. Music can be a real emotional burden for me, especially when I yearn for something new that touches my soul and I can’t find it, but more often than not, it’s just magic, a true spice to the dullness of the mundane life and even in my current situation, a real medicine for my pain.
I’m planning an episodic series about patients in a mental institution and I’ve been writing down the whole concept tonight, I seriously believe it’s gonna kick ass and I will publish it here first, then probably in Medium and I’m thinking Wattpad as well.
When it comes to how I organize my projects and thinking, I’ve had to find the freedom of being myself while also aiming to be more disciplined; it’s a thin line and a delicate balance that requires a lot of effort from me. I’ve already started writing a novel, another series on fantasy and now I’m developing this idea. But they’re very different projects in their scope and intention:
The novel is a psychological thriller that explores the nature of deviance and the idea of evil, from a systemic, cultural and philosophical point of view. It’s meant to be violent but also sophisticated and thought-provoking. It may take me a very long time to write it and have it ready, it will also be my first experience in formally publishing a book and so, it’s a rather complex project that I want to take my time to carefully complete.
The second project is a fantasy series that retells a lot of historical events from the perspective of a rather peculiar character. It’s a mockery to human stupidity and herd mentality while also an apology of the dissident, beautiful freaks of different ages. In doing this, it eventually starts becoming a cultural commentary of our time. This one I will release in episodes, and rather than aiming for a book or book series, I plan to make this story a social media experiment.
The third project, the one I’ve been focused on tonight, is an exercise in episodic story-telling and short story, but with a very challenging twist for me: it’s meant to be a “dramedy”, so a drama that deals with very painful and serious topics but it’s presented with a degree of dark humor. There are two special things about this latest project:
I will be able to talk about a very personal and relevant topic which is mental health; if you’ve read my previous articles, then you know I take this very seriously and I’m very supportive of people going through such hardship.
This is my most immediate project: I’m used to write blogs posts in a very free style, as well as some of my poetry; but I’ve never published stories before and I feel a terrible urge to do so as soon as possible. So it’s coming, very soon.
I’d like to write a lot more tonight, because there’s so much inside of me, sometimes I feel like my thoughts are a violent ocean contained in a rather frail vessel. And I’m OK with that, I am what I am, and I’ll work with it. I need to sleep so hopefully I’m in better health tomorrow.
The spectators were as plentiful as the population of Middle Knot City, as I claimed victory over a rugged, vengeful U.S special forces Captain seeking his lost baby from the distant corners of an unrestful afterlife. But this was far from the end, in the gaming session that prolonged for 5 hours and 7 minutes I faced a gigantic whale with more teeth than I’d like to remember, unbearable weather conditions, and a strange game loop that seemed to compel the player to completely give up and bring the story to an anticipated end, out of sheer frustration.
This was my occupation last Saturday night, finishing the 45th gaming session of “Death Stranding – Director’s Cut” and the last one to be streamed via my Twitch account. Now, this wasn’t the first time I saw this ending, it was the second, as I started streaming the “Director’s Cut” version of the game one day after I finished the whole standard version of the game for the first time, in a rather unusual time management decision from my end.
But it was worth every minute, and the reasons are not only related to how awesome this game is, but also to personal processes that made this first video game streaming project a real milestone for me (someday I will write about this underlying context, but today I want to make it about the game). After three introductory paragraphs, I hope you’re itching to hear what’s so good about this game and I’ll give you my point of view, but before doing so, I would like to provide two preliminary disclaimers:
This article will be FULL of spoilers, so act in accordance with this warning
This was also my first streaming project, and it was 100% recorded from the very beginning of the story until the very end. If you’re into viewing long hours of gameplay then you can access the full experience via my YouTube channel, so I’m leaving the playlist here:
An Unusual Hero, For an Unusual World
Perhaps one of the things that catch the eye when you look at images from Death Stranding is that the main character has a rather familiar face, at least if you were a viewer of “The Walking Dead” which made Norman Reedus quite a star. A second thing that catches people’s attention is the fact that this character is carrying a fully developed fetus in a sort of tank device which is part of his toolset; things may get kind of creepy there, but as you progress through the game you start realizing this fateful relationship between a porter and his “safety tool” ends up being a rather emotional and deep bond that’s challenged and defended several times until the very end of the story.
To understand these two and their adventure throughout vast, mostly desolate territories, we first need to become familiar with the Death Stranding, the cataclysmic event that changed the rules of the game for mankind and initiated what’s later announced as the “Sixth Extinction”, pretty much the end of the world. The Death Stranding was a phenomenon that brought together the world of the dead and the world of the living; but this is not a ghost story where a character sees dead people, this is an actual issue where existence and unexistence collide in chaos and such collisions generate mass destruction like that of atomic bombs or pandemics, and people are forced to live in underground shelters since precipitation (both rain and snow) known as “time fall”, becomes yet another dreadful agent of destruction since it ages object and beings at an accelerated pace: a couple minutes exposed to time fall may age you to death. Not only is time fall a reason to live in isolation, but the fact that the BTs (Beached Things), which is the name given to the “undead” entities seemingly responsible for the destruction, are scattered everywhere and every time a person dies, this person is doomed to become a BT and cause massive destruction around them unless they’re promptly taken to an incinerator.
To add some more spice to this already desolating dystopia, there are groups of vandals (MULES) and terrorists roaming to rob the few people who dare travel the open field and creating yet another risk for the frail, decimated population that remains.
It’s no wonder that in such a situation, the new heroes and saviors of mankind are those who dare to roam the open terrain, risking their lives, and exposing themselves to all these horrors in order to take supplies from point “A” to point “B”, yeah that’s right: couriers. Equipped with special suits to keep them from the effect of time fall and BT detectors or “Odradeks” these foot soldiers remain the living force of an otherwise hidden and frightened humanity.
And out of those brave few, Sam Porter (yes all characters have names and last names that talk about their condition somehow) is the ultimate porter who, besides running packages from facility to facility, has the daunting task of connecting all isolated cities and preppers via the major technological advancement of this era: the chiral network. This network is paradoxically made possible by the existence of chiralium, a material that generates from contact with the BT world, so in a sense, it’s a tool born from disgrace but that’s ultimately providing a means to communicate, share knowledge, intelligence and useful designs for the 3-D printers that are able to build vehicles, shelters, weapons, highways and pretty much most non-biological goods needed in this world. At the heart of the development of this technology is the research and utilization of “Bridge Babies”, unborn children from “still mothers”, braindead pregnant women whose special condition provides their developed fetuses the capability to interact with both the world of the dead and the world of the living. This is why Sam carries a baby in a tank that’s attached to his suit, the baby is what powers the Odradek and basically gives Sam visibility of BTs so that he can avoid being dragged into the netherworld: the baby is a ghost radar if you may. And although throughout the game people keep speaking of such babies as tools, since the beginning Sam creates a special bond with his “BB”, Lou, that would become a reciprocal, surprisingly enduring friendship. These two, are probably some of the most unusual hero/sidekick tuples we will ever witness!
I. Breaking Free of Conditioning: The Characters
Well, having described the context and introduced the heroes of the story, it’s time to go deeper into some of the layers of meaning in the story. I will not talk about game mechanics, although the game and graphical elements are very much to my satisfaction, to me, the strength of this game is in its story and characters (which of course, includes the acting).
Now, I have said before that the characters are named after specific conditions attached to their story: Bridget Strand is an entity deeply linked to the Death Stranding, Sam Porter works as a porter and the person in charge of the Lake Knot City facility is named William Lake, just to give you a notion of what I’m talking about.
I must admit it took time to get used to this; it’s a bit like in the T.V series “Mr. Robot” where the antagonistic organization to the hackers is named “Evil Corp”. To me, doing this type of thing is a real gamble, especially if you’re aiming to create a serious perception of your story. To make this gamble work you need some real quality plot, aligned with a very intentional style, and aesthetics that justify this sort of “joke” to the serious spectator. In Death Stranding, if you pay close attention, these names act as a deterministic element that highlights the conflict each character endures, and to me, it sends a clear message that you can always override your label and define with your decisions and actions who you will be. I will elaborate, using the examples of several characters:
Interpreted by director Guillermo del Toro.
There’s nothing particularly subtle about being called “Deadman” so we can assume something very particular is going on with this fellow; he initially tells Sam he works in medical forensics, hence his name.
But the big revelation comes later when he opens up to Sam and confesses he’s basically a modern Frankenstein: a being artificially made of stem cells and heavily patched with dead men’s parts and organs. No family, no “beach” (meaning an afterlife), and no natural human connections, Deadman feels absolutely isolated and could even envy the painful existence and anxiety of any ordinary human of his age.
But here’s where the identity of being “a dead man” is challenged by the character: Deadman turns out to be a wonderful human being, and a beautiful soul even when he claims to have none. He shows zeal for Sam and for his mission, he manages to control his fear to take care of BB in the war zone, and he “conspires” with Sam and Heartman to uncover the secrets of the seemingly shady president of Bridges. At the end of the day, it’s Deadman who pulls Sam out of a tormented existence in eternal isolation and meaningless effort, when he’s trapped in his “beach” (the personal, transient realm of the dead).
So the artificial human is only artificial in his origins, but he defies everything that he was conditioned to be and emerges as a beautiful human being.
Actress Margaret Qualley plays “Mama”.
Mama’s story is probably one of the most complicated and unlikely in this Death Stranding world. Her name is Målingen, but believe me there’s a reason she’s called “Mama”.
Målingen and Lockne are twin sisters, and also very competent scientists. They’re as close as identical twins can be, but there’s one topic in which they’re very different: motherhood. Lockne loses her love in a tragic accident, but his semen is preserved frozen in case of an unforeseen circumstance and she decides to have his baby, but to her misfortune she’s sterile. Målingen isn’t, though.
In a sisterly love demonstration, Målingen accepts to host her nephew in her womb to help Lockne achieve her dreams of motherhood. But when she’s at the hospital almost delivering the baby, a bomb falls in the vicinity and leaves the hospital in ruins; Målingen remains alive, but trapped in the debris for days. While trapped in this fashion she gives birth but not in the intended fashion: the baby dies and what’s born is a baby BT (a ghost baby) that’s attached to her forever. This baby cries, and needs to be nurtured and appeased, unaware of its non-human condition.
In a horrible turn of events, the young woman who didn’t want to be a mother becomes “Mama” to a dangerous being that confines her to the lab built around the location where she was trapped, for her sake and the continuation of her critical scientific work. With time, Mama develops compassion and a certain affection for this unfortunate companion.
But the world needs saving, and the Q-Pid, the device Målingen and Lockne created to expand the chiral network becomes defective and needs the collaboration of the twins, who have been estranged ever since the bomb incident. Lockne won’t listen to a word coming from Bridges as she hates the company for what occurred and Mama is forced to visit her twin sister in Mountain Knot City. There’s only one way to be able to leave the lab: cutting the baby BT lose into the afterlife; this would also trigger Mama’s death, and she knows it.
Mama frees herself from her tormented condition, being a mother to a being who doesn’t belong in this world and pays the price of dying for the greater good, and in a final effort to accomplish the work of her life, her mission. Mama needs to go beyond being “Mama” to be Målingen, a heroine in the age of the Death Stranding.
Fragile is played by Léa Seydoux.
Fragile is a character with quite some baggage, a heroine and villain in almost equal parts among the “preppers”, people who live isolated from the main cities of the UCA. The reason: associating with the wrong people and being stained by the actions of her former business partner who betrayed her.
Fragile is a business heiress, of the type that works for her wages and cares about the legacy of her father. In that, she’s often very proactive, and considering her story and the state of the world, she’s often in impressive high spirits; she’s a strong woman. While Bridges is a huge private corporation gradually assuming government functions, Fragile could be thought of as a smaller business partner with considerable reach in areas Bridges is not necessarily welcome; and so, she’s very instrumental in achieving the whole chiral network expansion. Besides this, Fragile has mastered a technique to travel via the “beach”, that surreal area previously accessible only to the dead, and so she discovers a rather weird means of long-distance instant traveling. Fragile has DOOMS, meaning she has special perception “powers” coming from the Death Stranding, just like Sam does.
There are two big drivers for Fragile, which put her at the intersection of Sam’s mission and hence, makes them compulsory partners:
The expansion of Fragile Express and honoring his father’s vision
Taking revenge from Higgs, the leader of the terrorists, for his betrayal and the death of thousands in the destruction of Middle Knot City
Stemming from this, we witness Fragiles story of breaking with the limitations of her name and condition. Fragile’s body is always fully covered in a sort of whole-body special suit, she’s always wearing globes and constantly eating a disgusting insect that’s also a product of the Death Stranding, called a “Cryptobiote” which contains healing and regenerative properties. This is not a mere eccentricity.
Higgs, Fragile’s former business partner, turned to become a leader of a terrorist group, a sort of “doomsday cult” advocating for the completion of the Earth’s annihilation and accelerating it by using his incredible powers (mysteriously acquired) to lure the world of the dead into a massive collision that would destroy everything. Before going public about his agenda, Higgs tricked Fragile into placing anti-matter bombs in two cities: Middle Knot and South Knot; when Fragile realizes this, Higgs gives her the opportunity to save one of the cities, the one nearby, by letting her drop the bomb into the tar lake; but the price she has to pay is, she’s stripped down to her underwear and sent into the heavy time fall wearing only a mask; if she wants to save the city she will pay with her body aging to death or near death. She accepts Higgs’s conditions and saves South Knot, indeed damaging her own body beyond repair in the process.
Fragile’s body is highly debilitated, aged to the appearance of a very elder woman and her face remains her own age, in a twisted mockery designed by the terrorist leader.
However, besides her frail body, there’s nothing weak about her: she’s entrepreneurial, risky, determined, and relentless. Even in her worst physical state, she manages to transport all members of Sam’s crew to a single location to meet and support him in his final adventure and almost dies in the attempt, so one of Sam’s last missions is to bring her a box of cryptobiotes to save her life.
Fragile is just her name, her character is tough as nails.
Tommie Earl Jenkins, plays Die-Hardman.
You’ve probably noticed I’m very fond of all the characters I’ve mentioned, and I’ve genuinely enjoyed their stories and development.
Well, I left Die-Hardman for the end of the section because this is a special case worth a special mention. I hated Die-Hardman for most of the game, but it’s now my favorite character along with Deadman. The funny part is, although there’s an intentional misleading narrative inside the story to make you think this is a shady character, and such misunderstanding will be clarified in a series of shocking revelations towards the end of the story, I didn’t come to appreciate him because of that plot twist, remember I’ve played this game twice!
So if you watch my recordings in the playlist I linked to this article, you will often see my hateful reactions every time this guy gives a speech, I just hate the cliche of the “boy scout”, “aiming for the common good”, “united we will overcome” etc, etc style of leadership he exerts. This is why I disliked Die-Hardman so much.
But as I progressed towards the end of the story for a second time, and paid closer attention to his particular story and conflict, I came to love the courage, fortitude, and depth of character of a man cursed by remorse but nevertheless charging onwards to defy a larger curse: that of humanity.
Die-Hardman (his real name’s John) is the president of Bridges Corporation, effectively the “temporary leader” of what remains of the U.S. But before that, he was Bridget Strand’s right hand and most faithful protector. Bridget Strand, by the way, is the ultimate antagonist in the game and conversely the provider of the last opportunity for the world to survive; she was Sam’s foster mother and the last President of the UCA. Bridget is as ambiguous as a character could be, and it’s until the end that we understand she was fated to become the Extinction Entity that should have brought the world’s demise and who effectively manipulates the people who loved her and causes the death and the pain of many to attain her ultimate goal: to attract the only person who can love her for what she is, and ask him to stop her from fulfilling her fate; that’s our hero, Sam Bridges. I will explain more of this in my next article.
Before becoming the watchdog of the most powerful woman alive, Die-Hardman served in the military under Captain Cliff Unger. Cliff was a Special Forces war hero, a deadly warrior who you never want to cross, and also a beloved leader and a very decent man. The reason people call John “Die-Hardman” is more a testament to Cliff’s heroism than John’s own ability to survive; per his own words to Cliff : “you wouldn’t let me die, you saved me once and again, and again”. It seems like John was a bit of a reckless young soldier, who kept putting himself in dire straits and getting involved in complex situations, which Cliff always endured in order to preserve the life of his subordinate. John admired and loved Cliff for that.
But life brought John to a terrible crossroads, a series of events that would brand him forever. Cliff’s wife, Lisa, was pregnant but suffered an accident that caused her to be brain-dead; if you recall what I said about Bridges Babies and still mothers, you may start to draw an association.
Being that Bridges is the closest to a functional government entity in the post-stranding world, and have the best medical facilities and scientists, Cliff brings his wife and unborn son to Bridges medical facilities, where Lisa is put on life support and his unborn baby is removed from her and supported on a separate tank. The Captain’s heart remains in that hospital room, in the game, we see frequent flashbacks (that seem to be visions triggered by Sam connecting the B.B to himself), where he constantly visits his family, celebrates anniversaries, and birthdays, and lives in a very complex emotional landscape while awaiting for Bridges to come through and bring his family back while giving his baby a chance to grow; but years go by and things remain the same, the baby is 6 years old now and is still a baby in a tank, so something’s wrong.
The truth is, “Our Lady of Torments”, Bridget Strand is on the brink of a major breakthrough in her investigation of the chiral matter, and has plans to use the baby as a tool and foundation for a concept that could mean the hope of mankind: the chiral network. These are the plans, never revealed to Cliff, and the reason why it’s not feasible to help him; unknowingly, Cliff is about to become a “sacrifice for the common good” and his family with him.
In the middle of this situation, is Die-Hardman, now a mature man who’s the protector and ally of a desperate president scratching all possibilities for hope: Bridget is not a typical villain, she’s a leader in the worst situation and has to choose among many terrible evils: yes, she does a horrible thing in a horrible way, but could it have been done differently? And John, being an honest man, can’t just watch the cruel fate of Cliff and his family without providing an opportunity, so risking his career and his life he informs Cliff of Bridges’ plans and gives him a head start to finish his wive’s artificial life and save his baby. But as the man escapes with his baby, the alarms are triggered and persecution begins; already fatally wounded by Bridges soldiers, Cliff ends up meeting death at the hand of the soldier who loved him and owed him his life, John, who pretended to pursue him while giving him a chance to escape, but Bridget forced his finger to pull the trigger with her own hand.
So Die-Hardman found himself unable to risk his life and career openly for the man who had saved him so many times, it is hinted that he loved Bridget and this brought even more complexity into the situation. This is his curse and the remorse that eats him inside.
In a scene that made me have to hold my tears, the big man, now officially President of the UCA, opens up to Sam and tells him the whole story; he’s brought to his knees by remorse and pain and assumes his responsibility on the murder of an innocent man. In the way he tries to make sense of things, Die-Hardman tells Sam that maybe this is the way to honor Cliff, by being Die-Hardman, by refusing death, and using this endurance as an asset to lead the nation. But in a deep display of wisdom, Sam tells him that’s a load of bullshit, the nation doesn’t need a leader who can’t die, but a man of flesh and bone who can leave behind who he was and become a better person, capable of better decisions; at that moment, maybe without fully knowing it, Sam sets Die-Hardman free from his past not by justifying it but by showing him the way of change, of having a second opportunity to do things right.
This scene is really an out-of-sync moment of forgiveness, at this point in the story Sam doesn’t know and we don’t know it, but Cliff’s and Lisa’s baby-in-a-tank is no other than Sam.
Closing Thoughts: The Courage to Make Your Own Decisions
I swear, I was going to make this snappy and deal with the three core topics in a single article, but guess what? I couldn’t.
I’m sorry I get carried away, but I’m very happy with the article and I almost make myself cry remembering all these very human conflicts and stories, that while existing only in Kojima’s and his amazing team of writers’ imaginations, speak to profound themes many of us face as life unfolds before our eyes and presents us with a reality that’s less than ideal: The honorable actions versus the visible actions, the need to make condemnable decisions and the character to stand behind them while its needed, the power to forgive oneself and the courage to build on top of what’s been destroyed, the lack of proportionality between efforts and outcome, and the freedom of embracing one’s own actions, the path we’ve chosen, no matter how hard it may be, over choosing to be a victim of circumstance and sheltering oneself behind a label that’s perhaps excusable to others, but unbearable to your own true self.
As you may know, I’m in a bit of a hiatus from my blog project, and I will be back with more, just not yet.
I’m building a concept that includes a lot of what’s in this blog, plus more and once it’s ready I’ll be thrilled to explain it!
However, you can start being part of it s of today, in about 45 mins, that is 9pm CST I will be streaming in the Cultural Deviant Coffee Club in Twitch, about George Orwell and his notorious political fable: Animal Farm! Don’t miss it!